Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Exodus 14:19-31 AND Psalm 114:1-8 OR Exodus 15:1B-11, 20-21, Genesis 50:15-21 AND Psalm 103:1-13, Romans 14:1-12, Matthew 18:21-35

This is my last entry on the blog site for several weeks. We’re headed off on one of our 45-day cross country road trips to enjoy the sites (and sights) along the way and visit with family in various locations. While I’m away Pastor Jeanne will be posting some thoughts here.

I’m aware that much highly visible trauma is going on in the world around us right now. We’ve even been impacted by ash and smoke from a major fire in the Columbia Gorge and some of our trip had to be rerouted because of evacuations.

I tie everything together this week around the notion of the stories we tell. There are stories that define our history, stories of survival and finding meaning in life. I’m sure that there will be many who will tell stories of survival, challenge, fright, and hope out of the experience of hurricanes and fires. The stories may include gratitude to the many who responded with help. They may offer perspective on how they saw God involved, or not.

The core story of the Hebrew people, the Jewish faith, is one of escaping oppression and movement ahead toward a new life. It’s most commonly known as “The Exodus.”

The two readings from the book of Exodus offer the story in two different forms. The most familiar involves wind and water. (Exodus 14:21-23) Was it something like a hurricane? Some indeed suggest that the part of the sea (perhaps the Reed Sea) was shallow and wind pushed the water back---sort of a reverse storm surge.  I’m not after a scientific explanation today

The second reading catches the mood I want to connect with today. Exodus 15:1 tells us that “Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord.” It is a joyous song of deliverance, asking, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?” (vs. 11) At the end, it is the women, led by Moses’ sister Miriam, who really get into it, “with tambourines and with dancing.” (vs. 20) We may not like all the gruesome details, but release from captivity and oppression is something to sing about!

Psalm 114 also references the Exodus. “The sea looked and fled . . . Why is it, O sea, that you flee?” (Psalm 114:3 & 5)

So, the question(s). What do you feel you have been freed from in your life? For many, it has not been this dramatic, but some do have dramatic stories to tell, stories of escaping or overcoming something that has defined life ever after. These are things worth singing about. Is there an “exodus” experience in your life?

I’m going to throw in a few comments about the Romans reading before moving on to another major story theme. The reading addresses a situation that does not seem like an everyday experience for us. There were debates in the early church about food customs and food rituals, often a matter of whether Christians were required to follow all of the Jewish dietary laws. Similarly, there were disagreements about what holy days were to be observed.

Wait a minute! We do embrace vegans and vegetarians in our midst, but not all of us adhere to those diets. I’m sure those who do would not appreciate being called “weak.” “Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.” (Romans 14:2---I would note that Daniel proposed a test using a vegetarian diet in Daniel 1:8 and following. Daniel 1:15 tells us that “at the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.”) The point here, though, is to avoid judgment. “Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.” (Romans 14:3)

I grew up in a tradition which was really into rules, including no alcohol and no dancing, in some cases not even bowling (because there was a bar in the bowling alley). My mother used to talk about not being able to drink soda pop because it came in bottles and cans and that might be mistaken by some as containing beer! She remembered her first drink of something called “Green River,” which could still be found occasionally during my childhood. The silly connection here. Some of us were freed along the way from strict adherence to such rules. It was a small-scale exodus of sorts.

We also live in a society where we encounter those of other religions who follow different dietary rules. Does this call to nonjudgmentalism extend to them as well? I think it does.

For many, the central story they tell about their Christian experience is that of “forgiveness.” Some of us have grown hesitant in our use of that emphasis since forgiveness in relationships can often get intertwined with a bit of judgmentalism. You’ve wronged me, but I’m willing to forgive you.

I see forgiveness as akin to exodus. It is an experience where something that has been weighing us down can be laid aside and a new possibility for life found. Although I’ve encountered people who steadfastly resist admitting it, I believe all of us inflict hurt on one another, sometimes intentionally, other times, unintentionally. Without something like forgiveness, relationships are almost impossible to maintain.

Several of the readings emphasize forgiveness. There is a story from Genesis where Joseph’s brothers seek his forgiveness. (Genesis 50:17) In the Gospel lesson, Peter asks, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus’ response: “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22) The story continues with a parable about a man who is forgiven his debt, but has no pity whatsoever on those who owe him. (vss. 23-31) “Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in his anger the lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (vss. 32-35)

What are your experiences of forgiving and being forgiven---or not? What has happened as a result?

Psalm 103 also speaks of a God “who forgives all your iniquity . . , works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of God.” It goes on to emphasize a Lord who “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love . . . For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love . . . as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion . . .” (Psalm 103:8, 9-13)

We are given stories of exodus and forgiveness, and living together without judging one another. Where do our stories fit in that narrative?

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